Earlier this year, the Maui Axis Deer Harvesting Cooperative (MADHC) became an agricultural producer cooperative in the state of Hawai'i. It's mission is to provide a vehicle for the Maui community to turn a harmful, non-native species into a usable resource that addresses food security with zero waste.
With the state's permission, axis deer were introduced on Maui as a game animal by private landowners in the late 1950s. The population has grown exponentially, and axis deer are now an invasive animal in Maui County, causing millions of dollars in property damage for ranchers as the deer compete with the beef cattle and farmed goats for grass and for farmers in the form of crop damage. And yet, as a tropical deer, they are one of the best, low-fat, grass-fed meats in the world.
The cooperative began a four-month deer-harvesting pilot in October, funded by a grant from the Maui County Office of Economic Development (OED). The purpose of the pilot is to establish safe, humane and accurate harvesting services to landowners and farmers who are experiencing damage from axis deer and other ungulates. The group will aid any farmer or landowner needing help.
The cooperative began a four-month deer-harvesting pilot in October, funded by a grant from the Maui County Office of Economic Development.
Under a landowners' Division of Forestry and Wildlife (DOFAW) wildlife control permit, deer and other ungulate control is allowed at night if DOFAW inspectors detect damage or nuisance. MADHC hunter members can be put on these permits with other hunters of the landowners choosing. MADHC will also offer free services during the day for non-DOFAW permitted properties and will develop a bow-hunting team for properties where firearms are not appropriate.
The hunters can keep some of the meat and share it with the landowner. MADHC will also have the option to invite a United States Department of Agriculture Food Safety and Inspection Service (USDA FSIS) ante-mortem inspector and transport the deer to a registered slaughterhouse to be inspected post-mortem to assure its safety for human consumption. Inspected meat will also be offered to the public by the cooperative at farmers markets and at island restaurants and stores.
"We will do our best to establish a safe environment for landowners and their neighbors" said the cooperative's National Rifle Association (NRA) rifle instructor, Michael Tavares. He has hunted on Maui private lands for 25 years, and as the great-grandson of D.T. Fleming, Tavares holds a legacy of respect for the 'aina and its creatures. As a hunter on private land, he has always sought to help with fence repair and anything else he can do.
"There always has to be something in this for the landowner," said Tavares.
The MADHC safety protocols and training are being developed by U.S. Department of Interior retiree Ted Rodrigues, who provided training in ungulate control for the National Park Service in Haleakala for 34 years. Rodrigues has also engaged in axis deer control for 20 years on South Shore golf courses.
He will make it a requirement of every MADHC member hunter to train to most effectively, humanely, safely and accurately reduce the deer population.
"Every piece of property is different," said Rodrigues, "and we will walk the land during the day and at night before ever taking a shot."
Dr. Phyllis Robinson of Creative Conflict Solutions and former chair of the Maui County Board of Water Supply was one of the founders of MADHC, and now consults with the cooperative as they continue to create their working relationships in the community and with one another. She introduced the project vision to Hawai'i Island's Kohala Center's Laulima Center for Cooperative Development, and in 2010, it was chosen to receive technical assistance as one of its statewide projects.
In its zero-waste mission, MADHC plans to use every part of the animal. Hides can be tanned, entrails donated to farmers for use as compost, bone can be ground into bone meal and used as a soil amendment, the antlers can become jewelry and the waste meat can be made into dog food. MADHC invites entrepreneurs interested in being associative members to contact them about any of these eco-friendly donations and/or business opportunities.
MADHC has seen its role as one part of a diverse approach to axis deer management on Maui Island. The cooperative has a seat at the table of the Maui Axis Deer Working Group as it moves toward the realization of a Maui County Axis Deer Management Plan.
The cooperative is looking for more properties needing help with deer removal. Interested landowners should contact Tavares at firstname.lastname@example.org or (808) 269-4625.
For further information about MADHC contact Robinson at email@example.com or (808) 647-4066.